Firing line fired on all cylinders in the Sunland Derby on Sunday, emerging from the shadow of his California rival, Dortmund, among the elite Kentucky Derby contenders.
In Kentucky, Dubai Sky moved off the turf to win the Spiral Stakes on the Turfway Park all-weather track, causing his owners to consider a late Triple Crown bid.
Meanwhile, on the international front, Vancouver remained undefeated in winning the rich Golden Slipper in Australia. And a couple defections -- including one likely favorite -- chipped away at Saturday's upcoming Dubai World Cup card.
Read all about it, starting now.
The Road to the Roses
Firing Line was happy to be out of Dortmund's line of fire when the field lined up for Sunday's $800,000, Grade III Sunland Derby in New Mexico. The Line of David colt twice had finished second to Dortmund, each time by a nose. Without that rival, and with Lord Nelson a late scratch, Firing Line was well too good for the remaining half dozen rivals. Under a hand ride by Gary Stevens, the colt won off by 14 1/4 lengths -- essentially a paid workout with a $400,000 paycheck. Where's the Moon beat the others, finishing 2 1/4 lengths ahead of Pain and Misery. Fair Grounds shipper Tiznow R J made a mild move into the stretch but then hung, finishing fourth. Firing Line ran 9 furlongs on a fast track in track-record time of 1:47.39 and could have done better if asked. "He's been battle-tested with Dortmund so it was nice to get an easy one," Stevens said. But he added the victory wasn't as easy as it seemed. Breaking from the inside post position, Stevens battled for the lead until late in the run down the backstretch when Firing Line's class began to tell. Given a preference, said trainer Simon Callaghan, he would like to see Firing Line run at a target.
Dubai Sky tossed another quirk into the Derby picture with an impressive victory while making his first start other than turf in Saturday's $550,000, Grade III Horseshoe Casino Cincinnati Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park. The Candy Ride colt, trained by Bill Mott and ridden by Jose Lezcano, stalked the pace four-wide, opened up turning for home and won by 2 1/4 lengths over a rallying Conquest Typhoon. Firespike was third at a big price while the favorites, Metaboss and Royal Son, finished sixth and fifth, respectively. Dubai Sky covered 9 furlongs on the all-weather course in 1:50.26. The colt finished third in his first outing at Saratoga, then won at Belmont Park in September. In Florida, he captured an optional claimer, then won the Kitten's Joy Stakes. The colt is not a Triple Crown nominee, which poses a financial issue for the owners, Three Chimneys Farm and Besilou Stables. Asked if Dubai Sky would be supplemented during the late nomination period, Chris Baker, COO of Three Chimneys, told The Blood-Horse, "With him getting 50 (Kentucky Derby qualifying) points, we'll take it under serious consideration." A $6,000 late nomination fee would be due no later than Monday. The win vaulted Dubai Sky to No. 7 on the Derby qualification list, used by Churchill Downs to make up the field if more than the maximum 20 3-year-olds are entered. El Kabeir, International Star, Dortmund, Carpe Diem, American Pharoah and Firing Line are the top six.
At Laurel Park in Maryland, Bridget's Big Luvy led all the way to a 2 1/2-lengths victory in the $100,000 Private Terms Stakes. Bodhisattva ran second all the way and Net Gzain made some late gain to finish third. Bridget's Big Luvy, who beat only an eased horse in his last start at Gulfstream Park, ran 9 furlongs on a muddy, sealed track in 1:51.92 under Angel Cruz. It was his second career win and both have come in the mud. "I always thought he was a pretty nice horse," said winning trainer Jeremiah Engleheart, adding Bridget's Big Luvy wasn't comfortable in the Florida heat. "I get caught up like everyone else this time of year ... I would like to be part of the talk and the fun" surrounding the Triple Crown," the trainer said. Asked where Bridget's Big Luvy might be seen next, he said, "I'm going to talk to the owner. But you never know." Like Dubai Sky, he is not an early Triple Crown nominee.
The "semifinals" on the Road to the Roses start next week with the $1 million, Grade I Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park and the $750,000, Grade II Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds. The Horse Racing Radio Network crew will be back at Gulfstream -- why not, it's still cold up north -- and covering both the derbies. Catch them at www.horseracingradio.net. And if you're puzzled for tips, check out www.popejude.com -- HRRN analyst Jude Feld not only tells you about 'em on the radio but also caters to your wagering pleasure. He handed out a couple of happy trifectas on Saturday.
Kentucky Oaks preps
By the Moon pressed the pace in Saturday's $100,000 Caesar's Wish Stakes at Laurel Park, took over on the stretch turn and won easily. Been Here Before crossed the wire 4 lengths back and 2 1/2 lengths to the good of Gypsy Judy. By the Moon, a daughter of Indian Charlie, ran 1 mile on a muddy, sealed track in 1:38.20 with Victor Carrasco in the irons. The filly won the Grade I Frizette at Belmont Park last fall but then finished eighth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies and fifth in her seasonal bow at Gulfstream Park in the Grade II Forward Gal. Larry Kelly, assistant to winning trainer Michelle Nevin, said, "The cooler weather really picked her up. In order to move forward in some of these big races, she is going to have to handle two turns ... She is bred for it."
Don't Leave Me caught pacesetting favorite Sweet Success in deep stretch to win Saturday's $150,000, Grade III Bourbonette Oaks at Turfway Park by 3/4 lengths over that one Sharla Rae finished third. Don't Leave Me, a daughter of Lemon Drop Kid, ran 1 mile on the all-weather track in 1:38.60 with Jose Lezcano up. She now is 2-for-3 with wins on both turf and the all-weather.
Bob Baffert imported the top two finishers in Sunday's $200,000 Sunland Park Oaks but the first one across the line, Callback, was called back to fourth by the stewards for stretch interference. That promoted Maybellene to the win, Scat Means Go to second and Fancy and Flashy, the victim of the interference, to show money. Callback was the better fancied of the Bafferts but Maybellene finished only a neck behind her stablemate. Maybellene, a daughter of Lookin at Lucky, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:42.90 with Victor Espinoza in the irons.
Vancouver charged down the middle of the course in Saturday's rich Golden Slipper for 2-year-olds, gained the advantage inside 100 meters and went on to a stirring victory by 3/4 length from his stablemate, English. Lake Geneva finished third. Jockey Tommy Berry, who steered a winning course from the far outside post, said Vancouver is a lock for the Australian Triple Crown. The race also provided trainer Gai Waterhouse with her sixth Slipper win, tying the record held by her father. Vancouver, a Medaglia d'Oro colt, remains undefeated in three starts.
The other three Group 1 races on the card were shared among Waterhouse, Godolphin and Japan. Waterhouse saddled Sweet Idea to a victory in the Canadian Club Galaxy at 5 1/2 furlongs. Japanese raider Real Impact took down the George Ryder Stakes at 7 1/2 furlongs, beating Criterion by a short head. And Contributor contributed his second straight Grade I for Godolphin's Aussie operation, taking the Ranvet Stakes at 1 1/4 miles, following a win last month in the Chipping Norton Stakes. Overall, Contributor now has three straight wins and five from his last six starts.
Hunter's Light has been retired with an injury and will miss mixing it up with some of the world's best middle-distance runners in Saturday's Group 1 Dubai Turf. The 7-year-old won all three of his starts during the Carnival, scoring by 6 1/2 lengths in the Group 1 Jebel Hatta, and would have been among the favorites in a field expected to include the likes of The Grey Gatsby, Farraaj, Limario, Mshawish and Euro Charlene.
Also, it was reported Sunday that former U.S. star Ron the Greek, now based in Saudi Arabia, will miss the $10 million Dubai World Cup on Saturday with an unspecified injury. Gulf News reported a late invitation was issued to Long River, who finished third in last year's Grade I Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park and was ninth in Round 3 of the Maktoum Challenge in his first try at Meydan.
Ashleyluvssugar surged to the lead in the lane in Saturday's $200,000, Grade II San Luis Rey Stakes at Santa Anita and held off the favorite, Finnegan's Wake, for a 2 1/4-lengths victory. Power Foot finished third. Ashleyluvssugar, a 4-year-old Game Plan gelding, ran 1 1/2 miles on firm turf in 2:25.78 with Gary Stevens at the controls. He was making a big jump into graded stakes company and making his first start longer than 1 1/8 miles for trainer Peter Eurton. Finnegan's Wake, by contrast, had three straight Grade II victories. "I just told Gary to keep him relaxed," Eurton said. "The question was just whether he'd just be too keen early and (previous rider Mike Smith, who was riding in Kentucky) said, 'Put 'em to sleep.' It was just an amazing ride."
Papacoolpapacool came to the leaders at mid-stretch in Saturday's $100,000 Pasadena Stakes for 3-year-olds and worked clear late to win by 1 1/2 lengths. The early leader, Anytime Anyplace, finished second and Soul Driver was third. Papacoolpapacool, a Temple City gelding, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:36.55 with Elvis Trujillo in the irons.
Page McKenney came four-wide around the leaders in Saturday's $100,000 Harrison E. Johnson Memorial at Laurel Park and ran on to post a mild upset win, beating Adirondack King by 4 lengths and the favorite, Souper Lucky, by another 3 1/4 panels. Page McKenney, a 5-year-old Eavesdropper gelding, ran 9 furlongs on a muddy, sealed track in 1:50.88 with Horacio Karamanos in the irons. It was his second straight win over the course and distance.
Turco Bravo, the longest shot on the board, stalked the pace in Sunday's $100,000 Stymie Stakes at Aqueduct, got by pacesetting Cousin Stephen in the stretch and won by 1/2 length over that rival. North Slope finished third, followed by Micromanage and the favorite, Vyjack. Turco Bravo, a 6-year-old Chilean-bred gelding by Caesarion, ran 9 furlongs on the fast inner track in 1:51.80 with Jose Ortiz up. "I think the more disdtance for him, the better. These South American horses want to run all day long," said winning trainer Gary Contessa.
Sheer Drama didn't provide much drama in Saturday's $200,000, Grade II Royal Delta Stakes at Gulfstream Park. After tracking the pace, the 5-year-old Burning Roma mare swept to the lead in the stretch and kicked away to a 6 1/2-lengths victory. House Rules, the odds-on favorite, was best of the rest, 2 lengths to the good of Molly Morgan. Sheer Drama ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.85 with Joe Bravo steering. She had finished second in her last to outings, both over the same track. "Today was one of the best races I've seen from her so far," said winning trainer David Fawkes. "She just did everything we asked her to today and it was just no competition." Fawkes said Sheer Drama seems to thrive when allowed to settle in one location.
Subtle Indian remained undefeated in three career starts with a front-running win in Saturday's $100,000 Gazebo Stakes for 3-year-olds at Oaklawn Park. The winner faced no pressure during the middle furlongs and had enough left late to win by 1/2 length over Bayer. Hebbronvile was third, another 1 3/4 lengths back. Cinco Charlie and American Sailor were scratched. Subtle Indian, an Indian Charlie gelding, ran 6 furlongs on a good, sealed track in 1:11.51 with Chris Landeros in the irons. He won at first asking last June at Canterbury Park, then was not seen again until Jan. 15, when he won an optional claimer at Oaklawn. "He ran big today," said winning trainer Robertino Diodoro. "I thought he dug in. I still don't think he really cared for the racetrack today. But, like Chris said, he dug in late when it counted." He said Subtle Indian will move along to the $100,000 Bachelor Stakes on April 10.
Filly & Mare Sprint
Classic Point hooked up with Sweet Whiskey in the stretch run of Saturday's $200,000, Grade II Inside Information Stakes at Gulfstream Park, then held held off the late-running You Bought Her for a 1/2-length victory. Sweet Whiskey held third. The heavy favorite, Merry Meadow, faded late and finished last, virtually eased. Classic Point, a 6-year-old Flatter mare, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:24.47 with Paco Lopez in the irons. She was coming off a pair of victories at Aqueduct, including the Grade III Go For Wand in her last start. Winning trainer Jimmy Jerkens had mixed emotions visiting the winner's circle only three days after the death of his father, legendary trainer Allen Jerkens. "It was only three days ago. It's going to be a long time to get over it," he said. Jerkens said Classic Point had struggled since coming down from New York but finally rounded into form. "She's always been very game," he added.
A big day of racing Saturday, filled with starter allowances on the fast inner track:
Before You Know it led from the start in the $80,000 Karakum Elekrtra Stakes for fillies and mares and, before they knew it, the others were undone. The won by 5 comfortable lengths, completing 1 1/16 miles in 1:48.16 with Manuel Franco up. Rock Me Mama and Lady Luciano filled the trifecta.
Room For Me had plenty of room at the end of the $50,000 Videogenic Stakes for distaffers, winning by 13 1/2 lengths after 6 furlongs in 1:11.20 under Cornelio Velasquez. Aix En Provance was best of the rest with Sweet Sway finishing third.
Stormin Monarcho stormed to a 7 3/4-lengths triumph in the $100,000 Mr. Sinatra Stakes with Spa City Fever and Don Dulce trailing. The 5-year-old Monarchos gelding, with Velasquez up, ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:45.99.
Pebble Beach baby came from last of seven to take the $60,000 Sis City Stakes for fillies and mares by 1 1/4 lengths over pacesetting Resentment. Lasamanamama finished third. Pebble Beach a Rock Hard Ten mare, got 1 1/16 miles in 1:49.32 for jockey Jose Ortiz.
N.F.'s Destiny was in control all the way in the $50,000 Kelly Kip Stakes, winning by 3 1/2 lengths over Dan's Gold. Cho Time got show money. N.F.'s Destiny, with Irad Ortiz Jr. up, ran 6 furlongs in 1:11.75.
My Savannah Belle stalked the pace in the $70,000 Xtra Heat Stakes for fillies and mares, moved along in the lane and won by 2 lengths over Here's Zealicious. Casual Elegance faded from the lead to finish third at 70-1 odds. My Savannah Belle, with Irad Ortiz Jr. in the irons, ran 6 furlongs in 1:13.43.
Piquant ran by the early leaders in the late going to take the $70,000 Peeping Tom Stakes by 3 lengths from Joking with Ground Force making up a lot of ground late to finish third. Piquant, an 8-year-old Arch gelding, ran 6 furlongs in 1:11.84 for jockey Fernando Jara.
Days Ride won a three-horse scramble at the end of the $80,000 Stud Muffin Stakes with the camera finding the Strong Contender gelding a nose better than Bemata and another nose to the good of Wealth to Me. Days Ride, with Irad Ortiz Jr. up, ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:46.47.
Doubledown Again rallied from mid-pack to win the $90,000 Caixa Eletronica Stakes by 1 3/4 lengths over Energetico. Praetereo came from far back to get show money. Doubledown Again, with Jose Ortiz aboard, ran 6 furlongs in 1:12.32.
Tizmas made all the going, albeit under pressure, in the $60,000 More To Tell Stakes but hung in there and won by 1/2 length over Lucky Lotto. Successful Brothers finished third. Tizmas, by Tiznow out of Christmas Jones, ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:47.22 with Junior Alvarado in the irons.
Wild in the Saddle, the odds-on favorite, took over the lead easily midway through Sunday's $100,000 Dream of Summer Stakes for state-bred fillies and mares and kicked away to a 6 1/4-lengths victory. Melanistic was second, with Grazenette and Sudden Sunday completing the order of finish. Wild in the Saddle, a 6-year-old mare by Silic, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:36.73 with Rafael Bejarano riding.
Eddy Gourmet was quickly out front in Saturday's $100,000 Conniver Stakes for Maryland-bred fillies and mares, extended the advantage through the stretch and won by 7 3/4 lengths. Printasticat was second and If Not For Her checked in third. Eddy Gourmet, a 5-year-old Eddington mare, traveled 7 muddy furlongs under Sheldon Russell in 1:23.50.
Tensas Harbor rallied from off the pace to take Saturday's $60,000 Red Camelia Stakes for Louisiana-bred distaffers by a neck over Heatseeker Sharon. I Dazzle made some late gain to get show money. Tensas Harbor, a 5-year-old daughter of Private Vow, ran about 1 mile on firm turf in 1:38.34 with Brian Hernandez Jr. in the irons.
African Rose pressed the pace in Sunday's $100,000 Harry Henson Stakes at Sunland Park, surged to the lead in the lane and held off Belleofthebeach by a nose at the wire. Prettypriceygirl was along late for third. African Rose, a 6-year-old Bwana Charlie mare, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:36.22 with Ry Eikleberry in the irons.
Weather Dodger got by the early speed late in Sunday's $100,000 New Mexico Breeders' Derby for state-breds, then held on to win by 1/2 length over Streaks Bro. Lonnie Ton was third. Weather Dodger, a Weather Warning gelding, ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.39 with Ken Tohill up.
Desert Tricks started last and finished first in Sunday's $100,00 New Mexico Breeders' oaks for state-bred fillies, winning by 2 1/2 lengths over the pacesetter, Miss E Bar. Baby Vamp was third. Desert Tricks, by Desert God, got 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.57 with Tohill riding.
Unfettered shot to a big lead in the lane in Sunday's $100,000 Bill Thomas Memorial and easily held off a belated rally by Isn't He Clever, winning by 2 1/4 lengths over that one. Watch Me Go went best late to finish third. Unfettered, a 5-year-old son of Rockport Harbor, ran 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:13.77 with Enrique Gomez aboard.
Funnyoushouldask set a pressured pace in Sunday's $85,000 Coneja Stakes for fillies and mares, finally inched clear and then just lasted, defeating the favorite, My Bikini Fell Off, by a head. Back Seat Roll was third. Funnyoushouldask, a 7-year-old daughter of Reuben, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on the fast track in 1:02.89 under Luis Rodriguez.